The 12 Days of Catch Up

December 3, 2019

If you are a teacher that is buried in work and have so much to do that you fear you won’t see your winter break this year, then this is for you! Read on to find out how to catch up and get ahead before Winter Break starts.

A busy day at the office!

If you are like most teachers, you are counting down to Winter Break, even though you just returned from Thanksgiving Break.  Only three weeks to go, but so much to accomplish on your to do list!  And, as much as you’d like to be prepared for when you return, you are just trying to get to break without getting lost in the mountain of papers to grade, mid-year data reports and parents to call.  So, let’s talk about how we can break this down into manageable steps and get you organized and accomplished!  As teachers, we love our acrostics, so we will use GLEAM to organize our major teacher tasks and what they include. 

  • Grading—scoring work and logging the grades
  • Lesson Plans—going through standards and curriculum and organizing into daily lessons and assignments for students, as well as completing school-based required documents
  • Emails & Calls—communication within and outside of the school with stakeholders, whether it be other teachers, administration, parents or students
  • Actuating Data—testable data from benchmarks, data from computer-based programs, or looking at how students performed on assignments to determine if reteaching is necessary
  • Materials—Create & Copy student assignments, teaching tools or manipulatives and making printouts or photocopies as needed

Having a plan for when and how to accomplish these tasks can be very helpful.  Some will need to be kept up with for a few minutes daily, some will take longer and need done daily and some won’t need done as often.  I highly encourage you to accomplish the tasks every day just to stay on top of things.

I know that break seems forever away, and yet really isn’t that far, but if we buckle down now, you will be able to go on vacation without a care or worry and, if you are lucky enough to have a teacher work day upon return, you can spend it getting your room updated for the new year, watching videos to brush up on your skills, or helping another teacher, like the first year teacher that is losing their mind and buried under everything—hey, maybe you could share this with them!

Once you have conceded to working hard, block off your calendar with work time, but don’t forget to block off family time to enjoy festivities now.  You can choose between committing to longer work days if your weekends stay packed, weekends if your weekdays are packed, or break it into a combination that works for you.   If you cannot work in extra hours during the week, I would suggest keeping up with emails and calls daily, and grading 3 days per week, leaving you only lesson plan and prepping for your weekends.  No one wants to go back to work on Monday after grading, but after preparing a fun lesson, it may not be so bad.

So, here’s a sample of how you can spend your time to get caught up between now and break to allow for a more manageable schedule upon your return.  If you are working these on weekends, then you will need to combine days for the major activities, but still complete some of the daily tasks and smaller tasks.  I know it may be tempting to cut something—like calls home, but DON’T—especially the positive calls.  Making those every day between now and break will do wonders for the students’ motivation and the parent’s support during this hectic time. Making routine parent contacts, whether on a monthly basis or at least every term will have a huge impact on engagement for both parents and students.  Creating a call plan is something I usually tackle at the beginning of the year, so we will work that in, as well. I have also included a printable version of this checklist here to guide you and check off as you go!

The 12 Days of Wrapping Up Fall Term

Day 1–prepping Clear emailsOrganize papers to grade by assignment and stack with oldest on top, newest on bottom—include grading key with piles; divide into 3-5 sections, depending on how behind you are and how involved the grading isMake contact list of current grade concerns/missing work studentsCatch up on overdue lesson plans to include current week/next 6 days and try to keep it as simple & student created as possibleDay 2—the worst day Clear emails Bundle todays turned in work and set aside in a new pile (we’ll catch those up after you’re current)Catch up on any overdue lesson materials needed for the next 5 daysBegin grading 1st section of papers organized yesterday & log in grade bookCompare updated grades against contact list and updateCreate a plan for students-missing work list, redo assignments, tutoring sessions, etc.Create a list of kids to make praise calls onCut both lists into 5 sectionsBegin making parent contacts with students with the most work due/lowest grade and don’t forget at least 1 positive callDay 3 Clear emailsBundle todays turned in work and set aside in a new pileCalls for group 2 kidsCreate lesson plans for next weekComplete 2nd section of grading pileCompare updated grades against contact list and update
Day 4 Clear emailsBundle todays turned in work and set aside in a new pileCalls for group 3 kidsComplete 3rd section of grading pileCompare updated grades against contact list and update  Day 5 Clear emailsBundle todays turned in work and set aside in a new pileCalls for group 4 kidsComplete 4th section of grading pileCompare updated grades against contact list and update  Day 6 Clear emailsBundle todays turned in work and set aside in a new pileCalls for group 5 kids (should be end of list of calls)Complete last of overdue grading pileCompare updated grades against contact list and updateSketch basic plan for next lesson plans
Day 7 Clear emailsOrganize todays turned in work, add to bottom of pileCreate lesson plans through break, again try to keep it as student created as possibleCatch up grading for all of last weekCreate call list for any grade concerns/praise reports from grading pile (divide into 2 parts, if too many)Day 8 Clear emailsBundle the day’s work for gradingGrade and log them all (Update current call list, as needed)Make calls from list (at least part 1)Create lesson materials through breakDay 9 Clear emailsBundle the day’s work for gradingGrade and logUpdate call listMake calls from part 2 of list or calls from todayComplete lesson plans for the week after break
Day 10 Clear emailsBundle the day’s work for gradingGrade and logDaily calls (Create/complete call list from grading or observations for the day)Create lesson materials for the week after breakDay 11 Clear emailsDaily gradingDaily callsOrganize materials for week of return into folders or piles with labels of some sortLesson plans for return turned in/in file you need to locate upon returnCreate a calling plan for after break (i.e., 1-2 class periods a week for 4 weekly groups,  alphabetical listing divided into 20 groups, etc.)Day 12 Clear emailsDaily gradingDaily callsgive the classroom a good cleaningholiday shut down proceduresturn on out of office replies

So, how do you keep from getting buried again at the next end of term?  Try creating a routine!

If you are current, you can start here, but chances are you are not current if you are reading this.  These steps can be applied to managing your schedule any time of year, but why not now to start your new spring school term off on the right foot?  You can either work this into afternoons/evenings or work into weekends, depending on what works best for your life. Once caught up, it is easily manageable, just see what works for you.  For me, I stay within 2 days on my grading, daily clear emails and calls (I make contact with all my parents on a monthly basis and have for years), and prep my lessons a week in advance and run data reports once a week and schedule how I need to process it—whether it is conferences, calls, re-evaluations, etc.

 My usual day works like this, but you can work it in ANY order–

Start early and spend 1 hour before starting official work:

  • Check emails
  • Grade yesterday’s assignments
  • Grade late work
  • Make list of parent contacts for concern/praise (5 calls)


  • Actuating data from mid-year tests or weekly reports (I have computer-based course programs, so this allows me to get a quick snapshot of progress and it helps me better prepare)
  • Send text to 3-5 parents on my list to ask a good time to call today about progress update, or, if you have a text relationship with parent, go ahead and send text.  This count is based on secondary teachers with 100+ students.  If you are elementary or have a smaller number of kids, this can be cut down to a smaller number, but I still suggest a positive call daily and parental contact with ALL on a monthly basis in some fashion.  I usually prefer a voice chat for both praise and concern, but a text helps me make sure it is at the right time).

After School/Evening (1-3 hours, until tasks are done)

  • Check text replies and plan when to make calls
  • Organize the day’s work turned in for grading tomorrow and to ensure completion
  • Lesson work–work on lesson plans for next week on the first day or two of the week, the next day is to prepare the materials, day 4 is to copy/create, and day 5 is to assemble by day for drop files to run the next week.  If I can condense the time on easier weeks or lessons with less prep, then I start working on the following week.  If I am doing a project-based unit, I can sometimes plan and prep for a 4-6 week PBU in a week and then have less to do in future weeks or get further ahead into the next unit and only have to tweak things as I go)

Obviously, this schedule will vary based on your personal factors, but it can give you a good starting point to work from so you can keep yourself on track all year long and accomplish so much more than you realized you could. Remember, you may need to tweak it as life happens or as seasons change. I know beginning and end of term can always get more hectic than other weeks, so just do the best you can and take time to make memories and relax.

Happy Holidays!

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